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Gordon Set For Swan Song 600 Appearance

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 23 2015
Jeff Gordon burst onto the Cup scene back in ???. This weekend, he makes his final appearance at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a full-time Cup driver. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Jeff Gordon burst onto the Cup scene 21 years ago in the 600. This weekend, he makes his final appearance at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a full-time Cup driver. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

CONCORD, N.C. – Twenty-one years ago Jeff Gordon stepped into the spotlight on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup stage at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That night the then 22-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver and his Ray Evernham-led crew outsmarted veteran Rusty Wallace and his Penske team on the competitors’ final stop in the Coca-Cola 600 to claim their first career bugopinionvictory in NASCAR’s premier series.

Wallace’s crew followed the norm and gave their driver four fresh tires.  Evernham broke the mold and provided Gordon’s potent Chevrolet with only two. That night it was described as a gamble, but two decades later the savvy Evernham admitted it was a planned move; one he had worked on for quite some time.

That night the young Gordon was overcome with emotion and stunned everyone by sobbing in victory lane. This Sunday don’t expect tears, but it could be emotional when a mature and polished 43-year-old Gordon makes his final appearance in stock car racing’s longest race.

Since that eventful night in 1994, Gordon has acquired five victories at the 1.5-mile track, three in the Coca-Cola 600. That accomplishment ties him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for third on the track’s all-time win list. His nine poles are second only to David Pearson’s 14. And in 44 starts he has recorded 17 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. His average start is 10.5 and his average finish 15.5. There have been 10 DNFs, but winnings of more than $5 million.  After Sunday, however, the book will be closed on Gordon’s Coca-Cola 600 statistics.

Unlike any other year during his NASCAR career, Gordon will begin the day driving the pace car for the start of the Indianapolis 500. He’ll then fly to Charlotte to begin his Coca-Cola 600 duties where he’ll start 18th. This year neither Gordon nor any of his teammates were in contention for the pole that was claimed by Matt Kenseth.

Still, that doesn’t dim what Gordon has accomplished at Charlotte Motor Speedway, especially in 1994. When that edition of the Coca-Cola 600 concluded, Gordon led Wallace by 3.91 seconds and he became the first driver to win the 600-mile race from the pole position since Pearson in 1976. Gordon also matched Pearson by winning the race in only his second start in the event. Pearson won his second 600 in 1961.

In reflecting on that race, Gordon describes it as “a huge moment for me.”

“I look back at that and I was still just a young kid and it was amazing that I was just in the Cup garage, at Hendrick Motorsports and had the opportunity that I had,” Gordon said. “You really never know what you are capable of doing until you accomplish it.”

Evernham, Gordon’s crew chief for three of his four championships, calls that day in 1994 as “an incredible day and an incredible memory.”

“The final period on a sentence that Jeff Gordon had arrived,” Evernham said.

On Sunday, Gordon places the final period on his Coca-Cola 600 career.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 23 2015
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